Title: Making a Match
Author: Elizabeth Wilde
Summary: Wendell meets a very different sort of a woman.
Distribution: Any place that already has my fic archived, anyone who asks me nicely, my site at .net/wilde
Leandra stared at the man in shock. What could he be doing half-conscious and lying in the dusty path? Surely his dress was too rich, his face too clean for him to be someone from one of the surrounding villages. She held back, looking at the area around them. His presence could easily have been a ruse to draw her to a certain spot, the carefully-planned ambush of more affluent highwaymen.
After a few minutes of spotting nothing but the injured man moaning in the path, Leandra hurried to his side. Kneeling, she turned him over onto his back. She forced herself to focus on his eyes despite how pleasant she found the rest of his face. The man's golden hair made his wide blue eyes stand out all the more. "My name's Leandra. Don't be afraid; I want to help." She received a pained nod from the man and then gently ran her fingertips over his arm, noting its awkward angle and the purpled skin visible through the shredded silk of his shirt. "Definitely broken. Sit still. I'll be back in a moment."
True to her word, Leandra reappeared moments later carrying four large sticks and scraps torn from the bottom of her coat. "Here, let me see." He held his arm out and she studied it again, biting her bottom lip. "I'm going to have to set it." He nodded, face pale. Leandra pulled off one of the pouches tied to her waist and twisted the leather, which she then shoved into his mouth. "Bite down on this." Displaying more strength than anyone would guess from her compact frame, the woman jerked his bone back into place, then tore away the last shreds of his shirt. Immediately, Leandra began placing the sticks and wrapping them tight to her patient's arm with the scraps of material. "There. It isn't perfect, but now we can move you."
The man swallowed and looked up at Leandra. "Thank you." His voice was quiet yet commanding, and Leandra knew with complete certainty that he did not belong in the rural setting. He belonged in a grand court, surrounded by servants and beautiful people in beautiful clothes. Finding his voice once more, he continued, "There's no need to move me. I'm sure my hunting party will catch up quite soon."
"I shall stay with you until they do," Leandra replied. She stared for a moment more, then ventured, "Who are you?
He shifted uncomfortably, looking all the more handsome. "No one of any great importance. I'm really just-"
"What did you think you were doing, Highness?" a male voice called from further up the path. "You could have been killed!" The man was a bit overweight, balding, and looked furious. "They would've blamed me for it too! I should've made you take the stupid royal guard."
Leandra recoiled from her former patient and rose only to bow. "King Wendell! Forgive me! I didn't know that-"
"Oh, please, don't bow," Wendell begged, gently pulling her up by the shoulder. He gestured to his arm. "I am the one who owes you a favor." Smiling, he waved to his companion. "Anthony, we must take Leandra to the palace and give her a proper welcome. She is to be treated as an honored guest."
Shaking her head violently, Leandra stepped back, protesting, "No! I mean, Highness, I couldn't! I don't know how properly to act and have no clothes but those I wear now." She looked down sadly at her ragged blue dress and plain brown coat. "Surely there are others far more worthy of such an honor, Highness."
"Nonsense!" Wendell replied, waving away her concerns with his free hand. "You shall be my guest and that is that. Have you any family? They must come as well, of course."
"No family," Leandra choked out past tears. Over a year gone and she still mourned her mother, father, and younger sister. "They were lost when the Troll King Relish ravished so much of your great kingdom, Highness. Had I not been away, I would be dead now as well." She did not add that many times she wished she could join her family in death. "Since, I have been alone."
The look of pain on the ruler's face was not something she had expected. "I am sorry. This is all the more reason you should come back with us!" he urged. "You can stay at the palace for as long as you like. We can find you clothes, and your behavior has been nothing but proper since I met you. Anthony, please, tell her," Wendell urged his companion.
The man nodded. "He's right. The palace is a nice place to be, and it's not like we're gonna run out of room. You should come. Worst case scenario, you get a good meal and some new clothes, right?"
Reluctantly, Leandra nodded, fighting the urge to bow as per Wendell's previous request. "In that case, I shall accompany you. Highness, do you require help walking?"
"Please," he responded with a sheepish smile. Tony helped the prince to his feet, then draped Wendell's arm across his shoulder.
"Do you require any help?" Leandra asked quietly.
"Nah, I got it. Thanks, though," Tony responded as they moved slowly back toward the royal carriage. "He's not all that heavy."
"I should hope not!" Wendell replied with mock outrage before smiling at his friend. "I'm just glad this isn't the other way around."
Tony sent Wendell a poisonous glare and Leandra stifled a giggle. When they reached the carriage, Tony urged Leandra in first, then helped Wendell in beside her. "I'm the oldest, so I get a seat to myself," he explained with a devilish grin.
Wendell smiled and then looked to Leandra. "Is it alright? You can sit alone if you would prefer it."
"No." She could feel a blush coloring her sun-kissed cheeks. "I am quite comfortable where I am."
"As am I."
Leandra's gaze came up at his tone. She was unused to any man looking at her with anything but pity or annoyance. Certainly she expected as much—or as little—from the king. But she had heard men talk to women as Wendell had spoken to her. It was inflection used most often by couples sitting alone together in dark corners, laughing at shared jokes and oblivious to the world.
Obviously Wendell felt her shock because his eyes darted away and he shifted a little in his seat. "I do hope you like the palace."
"I am sure it will be magnificent, Highness." She chided herself silently for being so awkward. He was a king, used to people who could at least feign normalcy in his presence, yet it took almost every ounce of control for her to keep her breathing even.
"It's a helluva place," Tony agreed from the other side of the carriage. He sat comfortably in the center of the seat, his arms crossed over his chest and a smile on his lips. He looked for all the world like a man completely and utterly pleased with himself. "Once we get there, some of the ladies will get you set up with a nice dress and you'll feel right at home. No offense to His Majesty here, but not everyone there has manners as good as yours. I wouldn't worry too much about not knowing the right thing to say."
On the contrary, Tony suspected she had more regal bearing than some of the princesses that had been paraded in front of the king. Every noble and ruler with a daughter even close to marriageable age brought them to the palace. They all wanted an alliance with the house of White. They all wanted their little girl on the throne at Wendell's side. The king never seemed to take much notice of those debutantes. He entertained them politely enough but sent them on their way as soon as the opportunity arose.
The smile on Tony's face broadened. "I'm pretty sure nobody's going to be able to tell Lady Leandra," he stressed the title gently, "from anyone else."